Playing the addictive mobile game Candy Crush on a cell phone is challenging enough with only the use of an index finger. So, imagine a mega-version that requires the use of your entire body (suspended on a harness) to form those tempting candy-coated combinations.
CBS has made that sweet dream a reality with the premiere of a new one-hour, live action competition show based on the game, which requires players to complete levels by swapping colored pieces of candy on a game board to make a match of three or more.
The original mobile game has become a worldwide sensation, with over one trillion rounds played by mobile users since it was first launched by King Digital Entertainment in 2012. And it shows no signs of slowing down with an estimated 198-billion game rounds played in 2016 — the equivalent of everyone in the world playing 26 game rounds each.
For Jennifer O’Connell, EVP of alternative programming at Lionsgate, the media co behind the new live-action TV game show version, Candy Crush represents the ultimate opportunity to create a colorful, larger-than-life format with mass appeal and, most importantly, the ability to travel the globe and be sold in different countries.
“Candy Crush is such a worldwide sensation, and that really got us excited because we knew that we would have IP that not only do people know in the U.S., but around the world as well,” she says. “It’s also a property that appeals to a broad spectrum of people of different ages and backgrounds.”
CBS, Lionsgate and King joined together to create the new format, which will be distributed domestically by CBS Television and internationally by Lionsgate.
In the live series, which airs July 9 at 9 p.m., the intimate game is turned into a spectacle, where teams of two use their wits and physical agility to compete on enormous, interactive game boards.
Hosted by American television host and actor Mario Lopez,the show is loud, bright and family-friendly. It’s a big launch for Lionsgate, says O’Connell, as the company delves deeper into the game show space.
In January, Lionsgate signed a deal with Don’t Forget the Lyrics creator Jeff Aploff to create original non-scripted series and formats. At the time, O’Connell noted that Lionsgate is expanding its alternative programming portfolio to include big formats that can travel the world.
Candy Crush is no exception. Produced by Matt Kunitz, creator and executive producer of larger-than-life competition shows such as Fear Factor and Wipeout, Lionsgate, CBS and King are confident that format will cut through the game show clutter with a “color bonanza” unlike anything viewers have seen before.
Realscreen caught up with Jennifer O’Connell, EVP of alternative programming at Lionsgate, and Matt Kunitz ahead of the show’s premiere to talk about its appeal and development.
There are a lot of advantages that come along with creating a live-action Candy Crush series: audiences are already familiar with the premise, its universal appeal means the format has the opportunity to expand globally for local audiences, and working with the game’s developer means that there’s already a direct marketing line to the target audience’s phones.
But Lionsgate’s O’Connell says another advantage for the live-action series is that while it is over-the-top and physical, you don’t need to be an athlete to do it. Anyone can win.
“I think positive, fun programming is where the pendulum has swung right now,” she says. “There’s a lot of dark stuff out there to watch, whether it’s drama or news, and I think there’s definitely a place for more optimistic programming where you see regular people win and get to cheer them on.”
Another advantage of Candy Crush, is that it will be good for co-viewing, and be just as fun for parents as their children. “It’s something you don’t need to turn off when your kids walk into the room,” she says. “It’s almost like a palate cleanser.”
Kunitz says this is the first time he hasn’t had to educate an audience about how a show works. “Because the app has been downloaded billions of times, the audience is coming in with an expectation about show the show,” he says. The upside? The audience knows what to expect. The downside? “I better not disappoint the audience because they know what to expect.”
On shows such as Fear Factor and Wipeout, the technology Kunitz had to work with involved systems of pulleys and levers (and the occasional helicopter). But developing the large touch-sensitive screens used in Candy Crush required a year of research and development.
The concept is similar to that used on your iPad, or the interactive boards you might find at airports, explains Kunitz. The difference is that these boards needed to be able to detect when a person was using their hand to intentionally swipe the board, as opposed to if they were running across it or sliding down it.
The Candy Crush team worked with the same company that built the touch sensitive wall for the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, which at the time was believed to be the world’s largest touchscreen. Kunitz and his team asked MultiTaction to help them create the same kind of technology. But bigger.
The end results were two screens measuring over 25 ft. and over 20 ft. wide, earning the Guinness World Record for “largest touch-screen display.”
“It was so large that we couldn’t test it,” says Kunitz, adding that it took three companies and 30 different crew guys to get the wall on stage. “A giant crane that barely fit on the sound stage lifted it up with inches of clearance, and then we had to hold our breath and cross our fingers that it would work. Thank god it did.”
The central reason Kunitz and the production team went all out with the screens was with the hope of creating a “larger than life experience” that would have television viewers feel as if they were jumping into their television and the Candy Crush world.
A 360-dgree arena was built so that audience members could live vicariously through the players on stage.
“The key was to make sure that the audience at home had a better perspective of the board than the player — if you feel like you’re smarter than the player, it’s fun to watch,” says Kunitz. “If you look at shows like Jeopardy and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, they all give viewers time to think of the answer and yell it out before the player does.”
Kunitz said that in the initial taping, they found that because the audience of 300 was sitting 40 ft. above the players and the boards, they had a better perspective than the player and could see matches and combinations that the players couldn’t.
“We didn’t expect it, but if these 300 people were on their feet and yelling and screaming, it meant they were playing along,” says Kunitz. “In post-production, we knew we needed to mimic what the audience in the stadium was feeling.”
To accomplish this, for the most part the cameras film wide so that viewers at home can see the board from overhead and play along.
“All of the shows that I do, I want the viewer to feel like they’re participating,” explained Kunitz. “During Fear Factor, viewers would cringe when a contestant was eating something gross, and during Wipeout, you’d get that intense feeling when someone fell. I wanted to take that same idea and translate it into Candy Crush.”
Candy Crush is produced by Pulse Creative in association with Lionsgate Television, King Ltd. and CBS Television Studios. Matt Kunitz, Peter Levin, Russell Binder, John Quinn, Nicki Sheard, VP Brand at King, and Sebastian Knutsson will serve as executive producers. Knutsson is King’s chief creative officer and is one of the founders of the company. He created Candy Crush Saga.